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Published: Thursday, 8/30/2007

Craig protests too much

IT'S difficult to decide which is sadder, a United States senator seeking sexual solace in an airport men's room or his attempt to have it both ways by pleading guilty, then denying the truth of the accusations.

Sen. Larry Craig (R., Idaho), a staunch conservative and consistent opponent of gay marriage and of giving special protection to gay victims of crimes, pleaded guilty Aug. 8 to disorderly conduct stemming from a June 11 incident in which an undercover police officer said the senator made sexual advances toward him in a men's restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The senator, who is 62 and married, quietly paid $575 in fines and fees, and received a 10-day suspended sentence. He was placed on unsupervised probation for one year.

None of this became public until Aug. 27, when the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported the incident and subsequent court appearance. In a written statement this week, Senator Craig said he told the police that it was all a misunderstanding. "I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter," he said. "In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously."

The arresting officer said Senator Craig, who was in a stall next to him, used his luggage to block the view from the front of his stall and tapped his foot on the floor several times, both of which the officer recognized as actions consistent with someone seeking "to engage in lewd conduct." The senator then slid his foot into the next stall to touch the officer's foot, and swept his hand under the wall between the stalls, at which time the officer identified himself and arrested the senator.

The senator is no stranger to accusations of homosexuality, but most of these have not been aired publicly. The Idaho Statesman recently concluded a five-month probe into allegations going back to his college days. These included Mr. Craig's unsolicited denial of involvement in a gay-sex scandal involving congressmen and underage pages in 1982, an accusation that he "cruised" a man in a Boise department store in 1994, and a claim by another man that he had oral sex with the senator at Washington's Union Station, probably in 2004.

The Statesman interviewed Senator Craig in May, a month before the airport incident, and he denied the allegations, none of which are provable. The testimony of a police officer, however, is harder to deny. Even his fellow Senate Republicans are calling for an Ethics Committee review of his case.

If Senator Craig were the victim of a misunderstanding, as he claims, he had two months between his arrest and guilty plea to seek legal advice on the best way to deal with it "quickly and expeditiously." Instead, he appears to have hoped to fly under the radar, and he almost succeeded. That no local reporter picked up on his arrest is remarkable, and it may have been serendipitous that his guilty plea occurred while the local and national media were distracted by the Aug. 1 collapse of the I-35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis.

But the senator should have known that this was not the sort of contact with the law that would go undiscovered for any length of time.

The blatant hypocrisy inherent in the senator's public stance on gay issues versus his private conduct is disturbing, although it is profoundly sadder, in this supposedly enlightened age, to picture a powerful politician sneaking around public restrooms in search of companionship.

Larry Craig's sexuality is his own affair, of course, but acting dishonestly is the public's business. According to police reports, he handed the arresting officer a card identifying himself as a U.S. senator and asked, "What do you think of that?"

Not much, senator. Not much.



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